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Need to Know: An interesting week on tap for Redskins RB Kelley

Need to Know: An interesting week on tap for Redskins RB Kelley

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, November 29, 5 days before the Washington Redskins play the Arizona Cardinals.

Timeline

Today's schedule: Off day

Days until: Redskins @ Eagles 12; Panthers @ Redskins 20; Redskins @ Bears Christmas Eve 25

Injuries of note:
Not practicing
: TE Jordan Reed (shoulder), G Brandon Scherff (ankle)
Practicing: LS Nick Sundberg
There was no injury report issued after the abbreviated practice on Monday. The statuses above are based on media observations from the early part of practice. An official practice report will be issued on Wednesday.

Redskins observations as they enter the stretch run

—It will be an interesting week for running back Rob Kelley. In his first three starts he running back averaged 107 yards per game and 4.8 yards per attempt. He his first dud against the Cowboys, rushing for 37 yards on 14 carries, an average of 2.64. One bad game isn’t going to get him sent to the bench and the issues against Dallas certainly are not all his fault. But another 30-yard effort with an average of under 3 yards per carry will get the staff looking at the bench at Mack Brown and Matt Jones. Time is running short and he needs to display some consistency.

—Long snapper Nick Sundberg was back at practice on Monday, at least the early part of it. If he is ready to play that could open a roster spot if they feel good enough about Sundberg to let go of Rick Lovato, who has handled the duties the last two games. Jordan Hill, the defensive end the cut to make room for Lovato, is still available. Scot McCloughan is intrigued by Hill, who he sees as a good pass-rushing prospect, and we’ll see if his interest is sufficient to bring him back. (Update: Hill is now with the Jaguars so he is not available to the Redskins no matter how much McCloughan may like him.)

—What are the big-picture keys to the Redskins winning the three or four games they will need to get into the playoffs? Tress Way, who is 31st in net punting average, needs to create long fields for the other team and flip field position a couple of times per game. They need to add 3-4 points to their current average of 25.5 per game by either improving in the red zone or scoring more often from outside of the 20 (and that included scoring on some special teams or defensive returns). They need more takeaways; they have had just seven in their last eight games including three with no takeaways.

—If the Redskins offense can get up near 30 points per game over their remaining five they will have earned it. Of the five remaining opponents, four are ranked in the top half of the NFL in defensive DVOA. The Eagles (1st), Cardinals (3rd), and Giants (8th) are in the top fourth of the league.

—I think most Redskins fans will be surprised to learn that the team is eighth defensive sack percentage. In raw numbers, the team has 28 sacks. The opposing quarterback goes down 7.1 percent of the time he drops back. Ten different players have at least half a sack and Ryan Kerrigan (9 sacks) and Trent Murphy (7) are in the top 20 in the league in individual sacks.

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Bill Callahan might be an old-school running coach, but he knows he needs to adapt against 49ers

Bill Callahan might be an old-school running coach, but he knows he needs to adapt against 49ers

From the moment Bill Callahan took over as the Redskins interim head coach, he talked almost exclusively about establishing the run game in the offense. 

Last week in Miami his team did just that, running the ball 33 times for 145 yards. It was Washington's biggest output from the ground game this season, and by a wide margin. 

This week, however, the Redskins face a much stiffer challenge against San Francisco. The 49ers boast the second-best defense in the league, trailing only the Patriots, and Kyle Shanahan's team is giving up fewer than 90 rush yards-per0game. That's nearly 100 yards less than the Dolphins were giving up prior to last week's game against the Redskins. 

Last week, it made sense for Callahan to preach running the football. Miami was awful at defending it. This week, things look much different, and Redskins fans might be surprised to know Callahan looks willing to change his offensive scheme. 

"Every game is different," Callahan said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington.

"This game coming up may be different than last week. We may take certain shots on certain downs and distances, and change our tendencies as we go forward. That's always fluid."

Against the 0-4 Dolphins, the Redskins played a conservative offense that saw Case Keenum complete just 13 passes. He was able to connect with rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin for two scores, but there were plenty of pass yards left on the field in Miami. The truth was Washington didn't need to do that much offensively to beat the awful Dolphins.

Against 5-0 San Francisco, the opposite is true. The Niners' offense ranks fifth in the league in yards-per-game and third in points-per-game. Shanahan's team plays great football on both sides, and the former Redskins offensive coordinator will very much want to show off his new squad on Sunday. 

Callahan seems quite aware of the circumstances for this game, and that could mean a much more aggressive Redskins offense. 

"I think that you are gameplan specific based on your opponent," the coach said. "Obviously, you want to take advantage of the things you can do. We will certainly focus in on that as we delve into the 49ers."

The Niners have won four out of five games by double digits, and two wins came by more than 20 points. This team is clicking on all cylinders right now. 

The Redskins have a serious task in front of them, and oddsmakers installed Washington as double-digit underdogs. The good news, even if minor, is Callahan looks like he understands the nature of his opponent and that he must adapt his team to best attack San Francisco. 

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Exclusive: JP Finlay sits down with Bill Callahan after the Redskins' first win

Exclusive: JP Finlay sits down with Bill Callahan after the Redskins' first win

Following every Redskins game of the 2019 season, NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay will sit down with an exclusive, one-on-one interview with interim head coach Bill Callahan to discuss the team's performance.

Here's what Callahan had to say following the team's Week 6 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

JP Finlay: This time last week, you had just taken this job. A lot has happened in a week. You were able to get your first win. How does all of this feel?

Bill Callahan: It's been a whirlwind. It's been a tough situation. Bittersweet. It was great for our team to come away with a win in Miami. This franchise hasn't won on the road in Miami forever. To come away with a win in those elements, in the situation we were, with the heat and everything else, was tremendous for our team. We're looking forward to building upon that as we move forward to San Francisco.

JP: That game looked pretty in-hand, then Ryan Fitzpatrick comes in late and things get nuts. What was going on, on your sideline, late in that game when they go for the two-point conversion? How relieved were you at the end?

Callahan: I thought our defense did a great job stopping the two-point play. We took a timeout prior. We took what we call a 'Kodak,' we took a picture of that offensive formation for that defense before they came back to it again. They showed the same play twice. Kudos to our defense and what they did. I got help from the box. Kevin told me, 'hey, let's take a timeout here. Let's take a Kodak moment.' We had a timeout to burn there, so we utilized it, and it really helped out defense diagnose what was going to be anticipated, what the play was going to be at that time.

JP: Bigger picture now, you've got 10 games left. What are your goals? Obviously, you're climbing out of an 0-5 hole. How do you tell these guys what the plan is next?

Callahan: It's one week at a time. The way the division is right now, it's a little bit crazy. If we just focus on what we need to get done and improve from week to week, that's all we can control. The vision is, 'let's get better this week. Let's build on what did last week. Let's improve the techniques and the schemes and the game management items that we weren't as good as, or could have been good as in Miami and carry our focus.' That's our intention going forward.

JP: You've been very clear with it, and you stuck to it [against Miami], this team is going to run the football. Is that replicable when you're not going against the Dolphins? The Dolphins were giving up 40 points per game, you came out with 17. That won the game. Do you want to stick with that formula against a 49ers time that scores a lot more?

Callahan: Well, I think every game is different. This game coming up may be different than last week. We may take certain shots on certain downs and distances, and change our tendencies as we go forward. That's always fluid. I think that you are gameplan specific based on your opponent. Obviously, you want to take advantage of the things you can do. We will certainly focus in on that as we delve into the 49ers.

JP: Last week, much was made about when Bruce Allen talked about the culture at Redskins Park. I wanted to give you the opportunity; this team is yours now. How would you describe the culture of this team?

Callahan: Well, we're trying to establish structure. More discipline. Be more focus-oriented in the meetings and our preparation and on the practice field as well. We're a little bit more situational-oriented on the practice field. So that's a little bit of a shift. That's my personal thoughts. It's no disrespect towards Jay or anybody. I think anybody that would take over the team at this time would implement their own thinking, their own philosophy, and thoughts they believe could help improve the football team. All I'm trying to do is the best job for our team. I've got a lot of help from our players. I talked to our team captains, I get their input. I talk to our staff quite a bit, get their input. No man can do this alone. Trust me. There's a lot of help I'm grateful for, believe me. It's not about me, it's about our team. The more help I can get to help us win, I'm all for it.

JP: The situational football, the play call of that game, to me, was the play-action, down at your own goal line. Did you practice that this week?

Callahan: We did. I thought it was a great play, a great play call by Kevin. We're at first-and-10 at the minus-1, got stuffed. We came right back to the run-action pass, and what a beautiful ball by Case [Keenum] to Terry [McLaurin]. Great route, great stem. He separated beautifully on the deep cut, the throw was precision-oriented, and the offensive line and tight ends did a great job max blocking it. We were in eight-man protection.

JP: It takes some guts to call that down there. Any hesitation when you heard Kevin say it?

Callahan: Oh, no. Not at all. That was the right call. It was one that was planned. When you get in a backed-up situation, you want a set of plays, runs and passes, that complement each other. It was well-orchestrated, well prepared for, and well-executed.

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